Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

I had been intending to read this book for a long time, but it just sat idly on my Kindle. Finally I got around to reading it and subtly understood why this book was pushed to the deepest recesses of my to-read shelf. To put it simply, my subconscious was guarding me against the utter tedium of this Pulitzer prize-winning novel. I am still in a state of shock and distress as to how a book which has garnered much attention in the literary world could be so mind-numbingly pedestrian.

The premise is interesting and was full of barred potential – a collection of short stories narrating lives of different characters, all entwined by one Olive Kitteridge in Crosby, Maine. But somehow all the stories were insipid despite overarching themes and characters that threaded them together. The only two chapters that were worthy of any consideration were “Pharmacy” and “Ship in a Bottle“. Other than that, Elizabeth Strout has just woven a unidimensional and vapid portrait of a town chock-full of detestable characters, all leering at each other’s lives and silently judging one another, all the while harboring contemptible thoughts and being indescribably unhappy.

This book reads less like a collections of stories and more like a cautious tale on how not to age, lest one adopt attitudes that makes one as horrid as the central character, Olive Kitteridge. If she had any redeeming qualities, the book might have been a passable read. For many stories, an irrational central character makes sense as their insensitivities have a direct bearing to the plot and other characters. However, this wasn’t the case here. Olive’s prejudices are banal in their standing, her judgements are groundless. In fact this is was the same with all the characters introduced in the book. Their irrationalities and aversion to life’s elements are baseless, and their personal stories are uninspiring and depressing just for the sake of it.

Fortunately, I don’t look forward to picking up another book by Ms. Strout anytime soon.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • And any unpleasantness that may have occurred back in his home, any uneasiness at the way his wife often left their bed to wander through their home in the night’s dark hours—all this receded like a shoreline as he walked through the safety of his pharmacy.
  • There would be for Henry Kitteridge a flash of incredible frenzy as though in the act of loving his wife he was joined with all men in loving the world of women, who contained the dark, mossy secret of the earth deep within them.
  • You get used to things, he thinks, without getting used to things.
  • In the pharmacy he saw that she walked around in a state of unreality; he found his own life felt unbearable in a way he would never have expected. The force of this made no sense.
  • Henry stares out at the bay, at the skinny spruce trees along the edge of the cove, and it seems beautiful to him, God’s magnificence there in the quiet stateliness of the coastline and the slightly rocking water.
  • “States and traits,” Dr. Goldstein had said. “Traits don’t change, states of mind do.”
  • At the very moment Kevin became aware of liking the sound of her voice, he felt adrenaline pour through him, the familiar, awful intensity, the indefatigable system that wanted to endure.
  • Olive’s private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as “big bursts” and “little bursts.” Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee’s, let’s say, or the waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts who knows how you like your coffee. Tricky business, really.
  • There was nothing to explain what he felt was happening to him, that he’d been put into a transparent plastic capsule that rose off the ground and was tossed and blown and shaken so fiercely that he could not possibly find his way back to the quotidian pleasures of his past life.
  • People like to think the younger generation’s job is to steer the world to hell. But it’s never true, is it? They’re hopeful and good—and that’s how it should be.
  • “It makes you feel old, though, doesn’t it? Once that ring is on the finger.”
  • She appreciated how this young man did not seem bored. So many doctors made you feel like hell, like you were just a fat lump moving down the conveyor belt.
  • Olive thought, because when the years behind you were more than the years in front of you, things were different.
  • The music took over the church. It took up all the space that wasn’t filled with people or coats or pews, it took up all the space in Jane Houlton’s head.
  • No, she came here hoping that in the presence of someone else’s sorrow, a tiny crack of light would somehow come through her own dark encasement.
  • She lost weight, looked better than ever for a while, which lacerated her heart with the irony.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s